Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Higher Education's Path Out of Its Budget Nightmares

The last few days I've been in a bit of a funk reading about the draconian cuts happening to higher education just about everywhere. The funk has been growing for some time. It's no secret that state budgets are in dire straits and they are starting to act to stem the bleeding. In spite of what a lot of people want to believe, this is not feeling anything like an ordinary budget deficit. What will be left in the aftermath is anyone's guess.

I was thinking about these budget cuts and wondering why someone isn't proposing radically different approaches? Instead of worrying about the business-end of higher education, I couldn't help but wonder who is looking out for the people end of things-- the whole reason the system of education exists in the first place. This was my mood when I came across this Umair Haque post: The Real Roots of the Crisis:
That means, of course, that tomorrow's organizations must do more than just sell stuff. They must not be economically full but culturally empty. They must culturally reboot the communities and societies which they're part of, helping them thrive and prosper in human terms.
So where's the leadership? Instead of worrying about buildings, and patents, and copyright and all sorts of business-end bullshit why are we not focusing on learning? On serving communities of learners? On having a higher purpose? Helping people to change their lives and the world for the better through discovery?

Somewhere along the way we lost our moral compass. Too many in higher education, especially public institutions, have forgotten why we exist. The values of the system are borked, and unfortunately too many have taken sides against the people we are here to serve. Higher education has become exactly what Umair claims, it is culturally empty. How do we fix that?

Maybe I'm an idealist (okay, I know I am), but I'm naive enough to believe that if we focus all of our energy on doing the right things the rest of this stuff will somehow manage to take care of itself. As Umair said,
Without care, there is no road back to prosperity — only an infinity of roads to decline.
It's time we get passionate about caring-- it's the only feasible path out of this current dilemma. The clock is running.

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